Organizations can function for short periods of time where part or all of the top management team are viewed as untrustworthy. However, this will thwart the organization’s overall ability to change, and in the long term all organizations must change in order to survive. When in a crisis situation, however, trusting cooperation, and hence trustworthy leadership, is essential to survival. 1 It is a truism that when the ship is sinking, the captain of the ship must be obeyed in order to save the ship and its crew. If the ship’s captain is not viewed as trustworthy, the rational thing for the crew to do is abandon the ship, regardless of what the captain is urging.
Many if not most of today’s changes are complex and interrelated. For example, business process improvements typically cross multiple departments and multiple levels of an organization. Previous research has shown that preparing for change and the presence of trust can enable an organization to avoid “silo” thinking and focus on the organization’s well-being. 2
Middle managers are the linkage between top executives and frontline employees. During all change initiatives, middle managers often feel torn between the changes urged by the “tops” against the resistance expressed or observed by frontline workers. Trustworthiness on the part of change agents enables middle managers to maintain the linkage between tops and the frontline, rather than actively or passively resisting the change. 3 In sum, all change requires trusting cooperation, and that is why trustworthy leadership is a critical dimension of organizational capacity for change.